Friday, 17 February 2006

Dora's Hour

Bakoyannis has shown a shrewdness for moving into channels previous vessels have dredged and widened. The foreign portfolio has been shaped as a potential antechamber for party leadership

The most important thing about the reshuffled cabinet is that with Dora Bakoyannis the country now stands a chance of having a strategic foreign policy, as opposed to mere management of foreign affairs.

Greece sorely needs to define its goals in the Balkans, on Cyprus and in the Aegean, and to start constructing the policy that will move it towards those goals over the long term. It also needs to put in place a set of goals for two of the world's biggest and fastest-growing economies, India and China; it needs to aggressively pursue the new energy relationship with Russia; and it needs a foreign minister who will put in appearances in the wider region - North Africa, the Middle East and Eastern Europe.

Bakoyannis made encouraging sounds in her brief inaugural address. She said that Greece needed to become a regional power, and a force for deeper European integration.

The conservatives under Bakoyannis' father, Kostas Mitsotakis, did not always prove adept at policy in 1990-1993. Allowing the church to form policy towards the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia was a mistake Greece is still paying for. The early days of a crisis are usually the most promising time for a solution, and instead of solving its largest chronic missed opportunity, Cyprus, Mitsotakis gave Greece a second.

Just weeks back in power in April 2004, the conservatives, this time under Costas Karamanlis, watched a European strategy for Cyprus that took four years to build blow up in their hands.

It is now up to Bakoyannis to prove herself better than her father, her predecessor and her boss in the field. Foreign policy strategy takes time to form and execute, and needs a degree of cross-party consensus, so there is little time to be lost if the government is to show some success before the next election. Doing so will allow Karamanlis to challenge George Papandreou on his strongest suit.

Bakoyannis has shown a shrewdness for moving into channels previous vessels have dredged and widened. Dimitris Avramopoulos is the mayor who showed that national political capital could be won in local government. Had it not been for him, Bakoyannis would have been unlikely to seek the post even with the Olympics at hand.

The foreign ministership has been shaped as a potential antechamber for party leadership, after the career path of George Papandreou. His father created the position of alternate foreign minister for him, and through the dismissal of Theodore Pangalos and the accidental death of Yannos Kranidiotis he ascended to the top seat. Unfortunately he moved to the party leadership by arrangement with Kostas Simitis two months before the 2004 election - too late to avert an electoral disaster in the making since 2000. Although it is early days yet, the thought is irresistible that Bakoyannis might end up striking a similar consensual arrangement to follow Karamanlis. It is irresistible because in a country where a small number of families rules the political scene, confrontation is rare and back room deals the norm.

Finally, Bakoyannis brings to the job an attribute all her own: she has the political standing at home to be a more credible diplomatic interlocutor abroad than Petros Molyviatis could ever be.

There are also dangers to the Dora-Costas cohabitation. Bakoyannis is not shy about disagreeing with the party line, and Karamanlis has shown that he does not brook disobedience (he excommunicated George Souflias while in opposition, for breaking party ranks over a socialist economy bill).

For this reason, bonding on an immediate trip to Berlin and Dublin was an intelligent move on Karamanlis' part. Dora's first foreign language is German, and introducing Greece's first female foreign minister to Germany's first female chancellor was clever PR. Bakoyannis added a flair infectious even on Karamanlis, who usually moves abroad in a cloud of sulky mirthlessness.

The other portfolio that gains most from this reshuffle is the economy. Finance Minister George Alogoskoufis and Development Minister George Souflias both made bold statements on the government's reform programme shortly after their swearing-in.
But while economic reforms are well underway, Bakoyannis has much to do from scratch: Build strong ties with European Union partners, negotiate the briar-patch that is Balkan politics, especially with Kosovo talks in process and a name settlement with Former Yugoslav Macedonia around the corner, rekindle relations with Turkey left fallow for two years and above all re-start the political process for a Cyprus settlement. Whatever the ailments of her job, ennui is not among them.

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